Kaz Grala‘s offseason is finally over.
Six weeks after the rest of the NASCAR world got the 2019 season underway, Grala will join them this weekend in his first Xfinity Series start of year.
Thanks to sponsorship from Hot Scream – a brand of spicy ice cream – the 20-year-old will make the first of selected starts this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.
It’s a far cry from where Grala found himself in November. When the Xfinity season ended in Miami, Grala made the last of 12 starts for Fury Race Cars, a team owned by his family that didn’t exist before May. After he lost his ride at JGL Racing due to a lack of sponsorship, Fury Race Cars came together in the three weeks between races.
In Fury Race Cars’ 12 races, Grala earned three top 10s, including a top five at Daytona in a 10-year-old car.
Now he’s “starting from scratch” in the best ride of his career.
“I feel as prepared as I possibly can be,” Grala told NBC Sports. “It’s hard driving part-time as I know from last year and competing against teams and drivers that are out here every single week and have been now for the past five races. They’re already warmed up there in the swing of things, they’ve got chemistry together. … That’s going to be a challenge.”
While he’s five races and 1,371 miles behind everyone else, Grala hasn’t been sitting on the couch waiting for today to arrive.
Though there has been sitting involved.
For the first time in his career Grala has access to a manufacturer simulator, plus RCR’s own simulator.
“Everyone had me a little bit concerned because they say you can get motion sickness from it. Luckily, no problems there for me,” Grala said. “We got to spend five hours in there. It felt to me like a five-hour test. Now the question’s going to be taking those things that we learned on the simulator and applying them in real life.”
Grala’s start will be the first for the No. 21 car this season, but it won’t be the first for the crew manning it. Headed by crew chief Justin Alexander, it’s the same crew that was behind Tyler Reddick‘s Daytona 500 entry in the No. 31 Cup car.
Grala shadowed the team during the Daytona weekend and other races in preparation for Texas.
“My engineer is extremely knowledgable and Justin of course, his experience speaks for himself,” Grala said of Alexander, who has 125 starts in Cup as a crew chief including wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. “His kind of range of knowledge about these cars and the way they work is even broader than just the Xfinity Series. He’s a really, really smart guy. I’m excited to see him work with me in real life at the race track rather than just in front of a screen.”
What does it all add up to?
While the final number of races he’ll run for RCR is “up in the air,” Grala hopes the decision to go with a limited schedule, combined with his experience in 2018, pays off in a similar way it has recently for Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain after their own limited starts in top equipment.
“I’m going to be having to figure out how to work with this team, but at least I kind of have a baseline for how to race these cars,” Grala said. “I think that’s been huge for me, but also just the difficulty of racing and competing for the finishes that we were last year with Fury. I’m back there racing with guys like Chastain, Ryan Sieg. These guys are some of the most underrated but best drivers in the series. …
“I feel like that helps make you a stronger driver. I think that we’ve seen that in the past with Ryan Preece and Ross himself. That really helps you gain a lot of race craft as a driver.”
When he hits the track today, he’ll have one token on his car representing his challenging rookie season. A Fury Race Cars logo will be located on his rear quarter panel to help promote their late model and modified manufacturing.
“This is kind of what they were hoping for, to be able to help me out in a pinch last year and have it work out to where I could end up with a bigger and better opportunity in the future,” Grala said. “This was an absolute perfect scenario for all involved.”